Growing profit from the ground up

Pasture Improvement Initiative

High-quality fodder — it’s all in timing

cattle eating hay

Regardless of whether you are looking to produce hay or silage, the quality of the end product will determined by timely cutting, baling or ensiling and storage.

High-quality fodder is no more expensive to produce than low-quality fodder — additives cannot turn poor-quality pasture into high-quality fodder. It comes down to harvesting pasture when it reaches a point of balance between vegetative bulk and feed quality and ensuring the ensiling and baling process is carried out in a timely manner.

Successful silage

The first step to making high-quality silage is to aim for good weather during the harvesting and wilting period.

Check the Bureau of Meteorology forecast and aim for 48 – 72 hours of dry, sunny and breezy weather to encourage rapid wilting

Get started with mowing as soon as the dew has lifted, to allow for a maximum wilting period, and cut the pasture or crop to a height of between 4–7cm from the ground.

If more than 3mm of rain falls during mowing — stop.

Rapid wilting supports fruitful fermentation

Effective fermentation requires a sufficient water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content to produce enough lactic acid to support desirable fermentation. Rapid and effective wilting will concentrate available WSC and avoid excessive respiration losses in the field and early stages of storage.

A mower conditioner or tedder will speed up the wilting process and can be particularly useful to break up lucerne stems and circulate air through heavy crops (see Table 1).

Table 1 Impact of mower conditioner and tedder on pasture drying rate


Increase in drying rate %

Mower conditioner 20 – 40
Tedder 30 – 60

Tedd (or condition) the cut material as soon as possible after wilting to speed up the process and ensure an even wilt through the dry matter.

When dry matter of the cut material reaches 40 – 45% it is ready to bale.

Aim to start baling within 48 hours of mowing. If the process takes longer than 48 hours fermentation outcomes will be poorer and feed quality losses (as metabolisable energy — ME) can be in the order of 10% per day.

Tips for baling and wrapping

  • Aim to keep pasture even as it goes into the bale — clumps of pasture tend to have uneven moisture contents, often too wet in the middle of the clumps, leading to poor fermentation.
  • Keep bales tight to exclude as much air as possible from the vegetative material before wrapping
  • Wrap immediately after baling for best results (2 – 3 hours maximum).
  • Choose a wrap with a high UV stabiliser content
  • Green (or light-coloured) wrap helps to prevent overheating
  • Use up to four layers of wrap for long-term storage (>12 months)

Silage inoculants

Silage inoculants do not replace the need to follow the basic principles of best practice silage production. Silage inoculants will not improve feed quality, but can help to maintain quality and minimise losses. Incoulants can add about $1 – $2/bale to the costa n require specialised equipment for application.

There is a range of inoculants available including:

  • Homolactic bacteria (fermenters)
  • Heterolactic bacteria (stablisiers)
  • Enzymes (assist fermentation)

The addition of inoculants can improve and speed up the fermentation process, reduce dry matter and quality (energy and protein) losses and improve the aerobic stability of the silage mass, delaying spoilage during feedout.

Silage inoculants are best used in situations where:

  • DM is too high (>45%), which can occur where plant material has thick stems such as cereal crops, lucerne or maize.
  • DM is too low (<35%), where plant material is less than adequately wilted due to moisture conditions or rain.
  • Silage pits have a wide face, exposing the cut edge to air, or silage is to be fed out over a long period.
  • Silage is intended for long-term storage (>12 months).

Tips for inoculant use

  • Apply at the correct label rate (using the right number of bacteria).
  • Use fresh inoculant (check the use-by date and package integrity).
  • Follow label directions.
  • Apply evenly at the time of baling.

Additional resources:

Successful Silage manual (Top Fodder)

AFIA Spring 2015 newsletter

Dry matter content of about 80% is ideal for baling hay, which minimises quality loss and avoids risk of self combustion from overheating

Dry matter content of about 80% is ideal for baling hay, which minimises quality loss and avoids risk of self combustion from overheating

Making hay

As with successful silage, the first step to making high-quality hay is to aim to strike good weather during the harvesting and baling period.

Check the forecast on the Bureau of Meteorology website and aim to start the haymaking process with an outlook of about 5 – 7 days of dry, sunny and breezy weather to encourage rapid wilting.

The key to making high-quality hay is to cut and conserve high-quality pasture or crop — again it is about striking a balance between maximum dry matter and maximum feed quality. Ensure you cut mature pasture, not dry standing feed.

For lucerne hay this balance occurs between budding and 10% flowering (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 The relationship between plant maturity, yield and quality in lucerne

Lucerne hay yield vs quality

Source: Producing Quality Lucerne Hay (RIRDC and NSW DPI)

Aim to produce a wide thin swath to allow the plant material to wilt quickly and evenly. Using a mower conditioner following mowing will speed up the wilting process and a tedder may be required, particular with heavy or ‘stalky’ crops such as lucerne.

Adequate wilting reduces risk of self combustion

Wilt to 80% DM before baling. Baling at DM contents lower than this will risk the hay overheating, increasing DM losses and increasing the risk of fire.

Moisture content (%)

DM loss after six months (%)

10 – 20 5
15 – 25 8
25 – 25 10+ (high fire risk)

Maximum hay temperature (oC)

Loss of digestible protein (%)

Loss of energy (%)

Up to 45 0 – 10 5 – 10
45 – 55 10 – 30 5 – 15
55 – 70 30 – 80 15 – 30
>70 High fire risk

Tips to reduce leaf shatter in lucerne hay

Maximise early wilting by:

  • Using a mower conditioner
  • Mowing to produce a wide thin swath
  • Tedding as soon as possible after mowing
  • Baling in the cool of the day.

Additional resources

Cutting lucerne for hay (Vic DPI)

Producing quality lucerne hay (NSW, RIRDC)

NOTE: This article was compiled from information delivered at the Fantastic Fodder workshop presented by Macquarie Franklin during September 2015 at Tunbridge Tasmania.